A painful, itchy skin rash could be shingles or herpes zoster, a bothersome malady brought on by the same virus that causes the infamous chickenpox. Shingles can be embarrassing, painful, irritating and debilitating, but it also has the capacity to affect a wide span of people, regardless of sex, age, gender or lifestyle. Anyone who has ever had chickenpox as a child is currently susceptible to a shingles outbreak today, and anyone who has never had chickenpox can still catch it thanks to shingles.
The theory is that during chickenpox, some of the virus cells move into the nervous system for an indeterminate amount of time. When the virus reactivates, it can move back to the skin and multiply, developing into shingles. The virus is prone to reactivation during periods of extreme stress or immunodeficiency, which may prevent the body from suppressing the lingering particles.
What Shingles looks like
Shingles begins as an itchy or burning pain in a certain area of one's body. After a short time, usually a week or so, a rash will develop. A shingles rash appears as a series of red blisters, filled with fluid, and similar to those developed by chickenpox. Development of blisters can last for 3-5 days. The blisters will ultimately break and ooze, then crust over and heal. This can take anywhere from 3-5 weeks to finish.
Some cases can be mild, mostly just itchy, and other can be very intense, bringing on severe pain at the slightest touch. Shingles typically form in the dermatome, a band of skin spanning one side of the torso, near the waist. Shingles will always appear in one particular area, or on one particular side of the body.
How long do Shingles last
Most shingles sufferers are free of shingles within 3 to 5 weeks. The lesions will heal and leave no lasting marks. However, anyone who has a weak or lessened immune system could be at serious risk. This means people with HIV, those receiving treatment for cancer, and those who have had organ transplants, since drugs are supplied to the patient to weaken the immune system to help prevent the body from rejecting the new organ.
Are Shingles contagious?
Shingles cannot be caught from one person to another, unless it is a person with a shingles rash, passing the virus to a child or adult who has yet to have chickenpox. In that instance, the person will develop chickenpox, but not shingles. People with chickenpox cannot give shingles to someone else. Getting shingles is dependent upon already having the virus inside one's body. Shingles is only contagious while new blister are forming. Once the blisters have broken and crusted over, the virus is no longer communicable.